Comptroller upholds campaign promises in review of first term

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Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman announces a hotline on Thursday for workers who are being underpaid by county vendors. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

On the campaign trail, Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman laid out four main goals for his office if he was elected.

At a year-end review on Thursday, Schnirman gave a report on the progress he has made on each of them in his first term.

The four promises were to open and modernize county finances, conduct smart audits that ask tough questions, reform the county contracting process and encourage residents to reports any acts of wrongdoing they may be aware of.

Schnirman’s first key issue focuses on improving the transparency of county finances and increasing the efficiency of financial processes.

In the past year, he has standardized all reports that are issued by his office by using the nationally recognized GAAP standard whenever available and has began a multiyear project to update the county’s financial software, which dates to the 1980s.

“We are doing this so we can reinvest time and dollars into programs that matter to you,” Schnirman said. “Instead of it being spent on hundreds of staff hours trying to hold together a broken financial system.”

Additionally, he is the first comptroller in 10 years to release the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report on time, he said.

Six audits were completed by Schnirman’s office in 2018 and seven audits were launched.

The audits added up to “more than $16.5 million that we found in wasted, lost, or recovered taxpayer dollars … in just our first year,” he said.

Part of the identified funds is $7.6 million in recovered PILOT amounts, which are payments from developers and commercial property owners in place of tax payments.

The comptroller’s office also discovered over $200,000 in missing wages to employees of county vendors who were not paid a living wage.

With his smart audits, the comptroller “follows the money” by checking into the operations of the Assessment Review Commission in the handling of tax grievances, the Industrial Development Agency in how it hands out tax breaks to developers, and the hiring of county employees with the institution of a nepotism audit, which is the first of its kind but has yet to be completed, according to a news release.

“This is not about playing ‘gotcha’ with our audits, it is about getting real work done,” Schnirman said. “It isn’t about doing the audit, it’s about making the change as a result of the audit.”

The third goal that Schnirman discussed was cleaning up and reforming county contracting in which he announced that efficiencies set forth by his team led to bills being paid to vendors and nonprofits 12 percent faster than before.

“When vendors get paid on time, it means our roads get paved and our work gets done,” Schnirman said.

It also increases the pool of vendors so the county gets “more bang for its buck,” he said.

A new policy where prospective contractors disclose if they have any family members in the county government or have given any gifts to county officials is also expected to cut down time, he said.

The office that audits an estimated 60,000 bills per year is working to institute an electronic system to be put in place this year to replace the “endless boxes of paperwork”  workers are currently dealing with, the comptroller said.

The office’s fourth promise was fulfilled early in his term with the establishment of an anonymous tip line where those with information of any mishandled funds or wrongdoing in the county can reach out to Schnirman’s office at ReportItReformIt@NassauCountyNY.gov.

In the new year, one of the plans set forth by the comptroller’s office is to establish an app where the county’s finances can be reviewed by taxpayers as easily as if they were reviewing their own personal banking. .

“We’re not going to take our foot off the gas in 2019; there’s work to be done to improve our local government and make living in Nassau more equitable for veterans, seniors, working families and millennials,” he said.

Before serving as comptroller, Schnirman was the city manager of the City of Long Beach and the deputy town supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven.

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